Think Chickenpox is Party Worthy? Think Again
Aug 13, 2013

It’s astonishing to me that there are people who are so dead-set against vaccinating their children that they somehow feel it is safer to sicken their children by exposing them to “wild” disease.  They argue that the “natural” immunity that their child will get (after suffering a long bout of discomfort and risk of complications from an unpredictable illness) will serve them better in the long run than the immunity that is offered through a vaccine.  But they are dangerously mistaken.
It is no secret that vaccine refusers often use social media and various parenting forums to arrange pox parties, facilitate the mailing of infected lollipops to those who live too far to attend, and even advise parents to “pop their child’s chickenpox sores and rub them all over their other children to ensure they all get infected”.
Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up!  This is the kind of advice I read on parenting forums all the time.
JesseLeeBut, what I don’t understand is what makes these parents think that by infecting their children in this way that they are going to be better off than if they had been vaccinated.   The misconception that wild viruses and “natural” immunity are better is just plain wrong.  And what makes chickenpox worse is that these parents aren’t avoiding the disease, but rather purposely infecting their children rather than get them vaccinated.
If parents are going to take their chances with the wild varicella virus, it’s important that they first acknowledge the risks.  While many people may come through a chickenpox infection with nothing more than a few days of ice baths, gallons of calamine lotion and some unsightly scars that linger once the itchy scabs fall off, there are cases in which varicella can result in serious complications, hospitalizations and even death.  While vaccine hesitant parents may proudly declare that they had chickenpox and survived, those that did not are no longer here to tell their story.
Take for example the story of Jesse Lee Newman.  In his story posted at Shot By Shot, in collaboration with vaccine advocate Dorit Reiss, Jesse’s parents share their son’s experience.

“At the last hospital, he went straight to the ICU. That made three hospitals in less than 48 hours. While in a coma, the doctors fought for Jesse’s life. They gave him several kinds of drugs, and hooked him up to every kind of tube known to man.
He was covered in chickenpox lesions at this point. They covered his entire body. He had them in his ears, up his nostrils and under his eyelids. Some infected pox had actually gotten inside his body and caused his pneumonia.”

They go on to talk about Jesse’s passing in detail,

“By that evening, his heart couldn’t take it anymore and failed. His organs just started to shut down. He had chickenpox on his arms and legs, everywhere. He was covered in them. He was read the last rites twice and the Chaplain sang hymn to him. Jesse left the world just before midnight on Saturday, September 1, 2001. He was not yet ten years old.
headstoneTo say we were in shock is an understatement. Our family was shattered. It was hard for anyone to believe that a common childhood disease like chickenpox had taken our son. We always made sure our kids were vaccinated on time for everything. But back then, the vaccine had only recently come out and I didn’t know about it. If I had known, my son would still be here.”

I urge everyone to read Jesse’s story from beginning to end and consider that there is no way to predict how this illness will effect your child.
Prior to the introduction of the varicella vaccine, the disease caused about 10,600 hospitalizations and 100 to 150 deaths in the United States each year.  That’s about one or two deaths a week!
The reality is that infection has the potential, even among healthy persons, to cause severe complications, including secondary bacterial infection and sepsis, pneumonia, encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia, and thrombocytopenia.  Fortunately, two doses of the varicella vaccine is highly effective (about 98%) in preventing severe varicella and deaths, which is why it is routinely recommended to be administration at age 12–15 months and then again at 4–6 years.  According to the Los Angeles Times, a Pediatrics study released earlier this year investigated the effectiveness of the varicella vaccine over a 14 year period, and found that the vaccine reduced the number of cases as much as tenfold in one large cohort of kids.  The study found vaccine effectiveness at the end of the study period to be 90 percent, with no indication of waning over time.
As parents prepare to send their children back to school this fall, we hope that stories like Jesse’s will help them to make the decision to prevent what is preventable and ensure their children receive the varicella vaccine.


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